During my first year of teaching K-2nd graders I made the following observations:

1.  My students needed help learning how to focus on their artwork.

2.  My students needed each new art project to be broken down step-by-step.

3.  My students loved whenever I could teach concrete facts, skills, and art historical concepts.

 

These observations led me to create curriculum that centers around the following two ideas:

1.  The Great Artist Chant

Every one of my students begins each Art class by reciting the Great Artist Chant.

Great Artists:

Keep their MOUTHS quiet when working

Use their BRAINS to think of great ideas

Use their HANDS to work carefully

Use their EYES to look closely

Use their HEARTS to feel deeply.

 

The Great Artist Chant allows me to support my students in focusing on their artwork.  For example, to align with the concept that "Great Artists keep their mouths quiet when working," I created a 5 min no-talking time for when my students first begin work at their tables that I call "Focus Time."  During Focus Time, I play calm, quiet music and my students are not allowed to talk as they begin work on their art projects.  After implementing Focus Time in my classroom, I have seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of the artwork my students produce..  In addition, I have noticed that Focus Time often sets a calm and productive tone for the rest of the art period.

In addition to Focus Time, the Great Artist Chant has provided me with a language that I can use with my students as they work at their tables.  An example of this is when I notice a student deeply engaged in his or her work, I may say: "I notice that you are using your hands to work carefully just like a great artist."  I may also take a moment to tell the class, "You are all quiet and focused on your work right now.  Everyone in this room looks and sounds like a great artist right now."  I can also use the Great Artist Chant to help my students reflect on their artwork by asking questions such as: "How did you have to use your heart to feel deeply when you made this painting?" or "How did you use your brain to think of a great idea in this drawing?"

 

2.  The Artist and the Concept of the Month

When I noticed how positively my students responded to concrete art concepts, skills and art history, I decided to root all of my curriculum in a Concept of the Month and an Artist of the Month.  

I have two bulletin boards in my classroom and each month, I crate a new bulletin board for the monthly concept and the artist.  Since I know that my students will eventually be tested on the Elements of Art, I use each of the Elements of Art as a monthly concept.  I also find that the Elements of Art lead to a logical teaching progression.  For example, every school year, I begin by teaching a unit on "line." I proceed to teach shape, form, texture, color, value and space."  Usually I have time for two or three more monthly concepts and I will often choose these concepts to match up with an artist I'd like to teach.  For example, if I know I want to teach M.C. Escher and tessellations, I'll choose "pattern" as my monthly concept.

I work really hard to choose a wide variety of artists as my Artist of the Month.  I have found that since my K-2nd graders love learning facts and ideas so much, almost no artist name is too difficult for them.  For example, I have taught about the Japanese Printmaker Katsushika Hokusai and the Austrian architect/painter/designer and environmentalist Hundertwasser.  In addition, since I'm an artist myself, I have a good deal of friends who are an artist.  I make a point of choosing a friend of mine each year as one of our artists of the month.  This way my friend may record a little video or send me a special slide show of their works for me to share with my classes.  In this, my third year of teaching, I continue to be shocked by my students ability to correctly pronounce and remember facts about each of the monthly artists. 

 

Putting it All Together

Each month begins by learning about our new artist and concept of the month.  Depending on the grade level, we may play a game or I may do a little "test" to see what they remember from last year.  An example of this would be how I teach my students that the difference between a shape and a form is that "shapes are flat and forms are fat."  Kindergartners may have to pull an item out of a bag and sort it as a shape or a form, 1st and 2nd graders may partner up and walk around the room to search for all the shapes or all the forms.  

Typically, I teach about the artists by creating my bulletin board, a power point, and I always search youtube for a relevant video.  Often, there are videos of the artist we are learning about.  When I taught about the clay artist Peter Voulkos, I could not find an appropriate video of the artist working.  However, since he was a clay artist, I found a video of a potter working on the potters wheel that mesmerized each one of my K-2nd graders.

I begin each month with a series of practice or warm-up projects integrating the concept and the artist of the month.  Typically, we then work towards a more finalized project and then I like to include an a reflection exercise and possibly a free-choice/catch-up/celebration of our hard work at the very end of the month, although we don't always have time for such a day.

For example, in September my students learned about the artist "Franz Kline" and the concept of "Line."  We did several projects designed to explore the different ways to create a line.  We talked about how Franz Kline was an abstract expressionist who wanted to show a feeling using only a line.  Using a variety of art supplies, we practiced what we thought an "angry" or "sad" or "bored" or "excited" line might look like.  We practiced painting a line to match a different feeling in a wide variety of songs.  For our final project, students were given two matching white pieces of paper.  On each paper, they were to choose one word- ideally both words would be very different.  For example, they might choose "Angry" and "Silly" or "Bored" and "Scared."  Their task was to show each feeling by painting 5 black lines across the white paper.  The end result was two abstract paintings that looked entirely different from one another, which they then glued to a piece of black construction paper.  At the end of the month, for fun and celebration, students practiced using line to create different facial expressions on a worksheet that had four faces with eyes only.  Students were tasked with using line to draw eyebrows, noses, mouths, hair, hats, glasses or any other details to make each face completely unique.